GOP senators: Inmate-health scandal more evidence of Inslee leadership failure

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, urges reforms to state Department of Corrections during 2016 press conference.
Staff Writer

Senate Republicans who have been urging sweeping reforms for the agency since 2016 say it's time for Gov. Jay Inslee to show some leadership and address the mismanagement of the agency.
“Incompetent leadership, high-profile blunders, costly lawsuits, inmates being released early and even deaths – that’s the record and legacy of Washington’s state prisons under Governor Inslee’s watch,” said Sen. Mike Padden, the Republican leader on the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “Instead of working to correct these issues, Governor Inslee has been putting up roadblocks and actively halting the progress of those of us who are offering solutions.”
The Spokane Valley lawmaker is one of the Senate Republicans, along with Sen. Keith Wagoner of Sedro-Woolley, preparing new legislation to address alleged Department of Corrections failures.
The latest high-profile prison issue is a finding of negligence by the Monroe Correctional Complex head doctor. That negligence may have contributed to the deaths of three inmates, the report said.
“This is a failure of leadership at the highest level, but it should not taint the reputation of our professional DOC staff," Wagoner said. "Let’s put the blame where it belongs, at the top."
The Department of Corrections falls under the executive branch of state government, currently managed by Gov. Inslee.
Padden, as Senate Law and Justice Committee chairman in 2016, led the effort for an independent Senate investigation into the agency after several inmates were released early.
The investigation recommended major reforms, including better monitoring of agency performance by the governor’s office and the hiring of additional programmers qualified to make fixes to agency software. Senate Bill 5294 was passed in 2017, but was quashed by the Governor’s Office when it reached the House of Representatives.
“We had an agreed-upon, bipartisan bill in 2017 that I had worked out with Democrat Rep. Roger Goodman,” Padden said. “It passed the Senate and the House agreed to take it up. But at the last minute, the Governor’s Office went to [House] Speaker Frank Chopp to have him pull the legislation – killing the reform measure.
“The governor asked the public to trust him that all problems would be resolved. Unfortunately, sweeping them under the rug didn’t do the trick.”
Padden said he will sponsor a reform measure again next session, noting that it will need Democrat support.
“Inslee needs to step up to his responsibilities as governor, or at least get out of the way, so those of us who are committed to fixing DOC can get the job done,” Padden said.